How to weed your way through the options
So, you’ve decided to finally cash in those vacation days you’ve been saving for the last three years. Good, it’s about time. Now you can start daydreaming about where to go, what to do and all the good stuff in between. Or, better yet, you can hook up with an adventure travel company to handle all the logistics for you. Yes, perfect. You can’t go wrong with that route, right? WRONG.
Take that last statement from a person who has traveled with both the jalopy of adventure companies (where you’re seriously questioning if you’ll make it back alive) to the Cadillac of adventure companies (where life couldn’t get any better than on that trip at that moment). There are thousands of adventure travel companies out there advertising trips that sound really great. Key words here…sound really great. But there are also companies out there taking people on trips that really are great.
Here’s how to pick and choose who to go with so you end up having an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience versus a so-so, or even scary trip.
Ask around. Word of mouth referrals from friends, relatives or even co-workers are huge. If other people are raving about a trip, or a particular company, then chances are you will be too. Plus, you’ll get a good idea of what to expect when you go. But let’s say you surround yourself with a bunch of boring folk who haven’t gone on a good adventure lately. Then what?
Reference check! Ask a prospective adventure outfitter for references from previous travelers who can offer real advice based on their own experience. Or, if talking to strangers doesn’t sound appealing, look for online trip reviews. If an outfitter isn’t on sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp, then you might want to keep on looking. A good adventure travel company will not only be on customer review sites, but will have a good mix of feedback that will give you an idea of how they run their trips.
Measure the drool factor. Do the photos from a particular company’s website or catalog make you want to quit your job all together and live a life of adventure? If an adventure company’s image doesn’t speak to you, forget going with them.
Go with the old guy. The older, the wiser, especially when it comes to adventure travel companies. Find out how long the company you’re considering has been around. Have they won any awards? If they have a long-standing reputation in the adventure travel business, you can be certain that trip kinks have been worked out long ago. Not only that, they’ll know the destination in and out and be able to offer tons of interesting information about an area that can take a trip from fun to fascinating.
Get to know the guides. And speaking of reputations, the best adventure companies also have seasoned guides that have been doing what they’ve been doing for years because they love their jobs. Does the company you’re looking at have guide profiles on their site? What kind of qualifications do they have? This may be one of the single biggest factors in how good your experience will be since so much of your trip will be in their hands.
Don’t break the bank. You don’t have to spend your life savings to have an amazing adventure, but as most of us have learned by now, you get what you pay for. Before choosing the least expensive outfitter, find out what you’re paying for. Sometimes, a few extra bucks is worth an added tier of comfort and amenities (like providing plush sleeping pads and comfortable folding chairs so your back feels that much better in the morning).
Does Mother Earth approve? Adventure travel is appealing because we often get to escape to places that are magical and worth protecting. Make sure the company you’re looking at is eco-conscious and has a responsible travel policy in place. Find out what kinds of things they do to leave no trace and “give back” to the areas being visited.
Once you’ve narrowed down the options and have honed in on one or two companies, or possibly even a particular trip, move on to the specifics.
Price check, please. At this point, you’ve seen the price tag. Find out what is included in the price of the trip you’re looking at and what additional expenses you can expect. Are internal flights included? How about equipment? Some companies will provide everything for you at a small additional fee, while others will expect you to bring your own gear.
What’s on the menu? Ok, you know you’ll be fed if you’re heading out with a travel company, but the question is what will you be fed? Is the grub going to be campfire beans n’ weenies style, or a gourmet extravaganza prepared by a chef? If you like to be wined and dined on vacation, ask what kinds of meals you can expect, whether or not alcohol is provided, and/or if you can bring your own.
Assess accommodations. Much like inquiring about food, you’ll want to assess the sleeping situation. If you’re a sleep under the stars person, then you’ll likely be up for any kind of accommodations. But if you are definitely not a ground sleeper, find a trip or company that offers nightly lodge accommodations after your day of adventure.
Gauge group dynamics. Some of us like to travel in big social groups, and others prefer a more intimate escape. Trip group sizes can range drastically from one company to another, or even one set of dates to another. Ask how many people you can expect to be traveling with up front, so there aren’t any disappointments when you meet up for your adventure. Another major factor is the guide to guest ratio. Think twice if a company’s guide to guest ratio is any higher than 1 to 6.
While this might seem like a lot of homework to do in order to find the right adventure travel company, don’t stress about the decision. After all, it’s a vacation you’re planning. Take the above advice, follow your gut feeling, and you’ll be in good hands on your next adventure.
What advice do you have for someone considering a trip with an adventure travel outfitter?